John Shropshire: Review's findings could transform sector

John Shropshire: Review's findings could transform sector

John Shropshire outlines the challenges farmers and growers are facing and why he's keen to see the government's response later this year.
John Shropshire chaired the Independent review into labour shortages in the food supply chain.
John Shropshire chaired the Independent review into labour shortages in the food supply chain.
John Shropshire.
John Shropshire chaired the Independent review into labour shortages in the food supply chain.

Understanding the current state of England’s food supply chain is crucial in order to grasp the impacts of successive economic shocks on labour supply from new regulations, the Covid-19 pandemic, and the war in Ukraine.

I had the privilege of leading an independent review, resulting in the launch of a comprehensive study exploring the intricate dynamics of the supply chain in July. This exploration has highlighted the pivotal challenges this indispensable sector faces, highlighting how these issues contribute to food inflationary pressures. 

England’s food supply chain is an extraordinary network fundamental to the nation's economy and the security of its citizens. However, we face significant obstacles in recruiting and retaining a competent workforce in this vital sector. Low unemployment rates, shifting labour market dynamics, lack of affordable housing, and diminished access to migrant workers have exacerbated these challenges. 

Migrant labour has historically played a crucial role in filling workforce gaps, but the process has become increasingly complex. Our review illuminates how these workforce shortages impact England's trade balance.

Workforce critical to strengthening UK's food security

With a free trade agreement with the highly competitive EU food industry, the reliance on imports for certain food categories has intensified. This underscores the urgency of addressing labour challenges and strengthening our domestic food supply chain. To this end, our Prime Minister has committed to maintaining our food production at approximately 60% of our national requirement by value.

Despite laudable initiatives by the sector and the government, the review identifies duplicated efforts and disjointed operations. Organised collaboration between industry stakeholders, governmental bodies, and educational institutions is key for maximising efficiency. The role of organisations like The Institute for Agriculture and Horticulture (TIAH) is instrumental in fostering and nurturing such collaboration, and it was indeed established with this purpose in mind.

How we are working on John Shropshire's findings

The findings outlined in John Shropshire's Independent Review into Labour Shortages have brought a number of issues in farming and growing to the fore. But many have also illustrated the need for the work TIAH is already tackling.

For more on this, read our statement on the findings and you can also find out more about how we're already working on the issues reported on in the review.

Our review, grounded in insights from more than 400 organisations, has yielded evidence-based findings surrounding four critical themes: recruitment, retention, skills development, and automation.

To bolster the sector's appeal, our recommendations advocate for a comprehensive strategy that reshapes public perception of the food supply chain. Collaborative efforts among industry players, government agencies, and educational establishments are pivotal in crafting targeted career guidance that illuminates the diverse spectrum of skills and roles in the food supply chain. Valuable lessons can be gleaned from international counterparts, such as the Republic of reland's Bord Bia and the Netherlands' Groenpact.

Recognising the significance of investing in domestic talent, the review places emphasis on structured training and career development plans, another focus area for TIAH. Businesses are urged to view this investment as a long-term strategy that enriches the sector's capabilities. Additionally, the review calls for a reform of the Apprenticeship Levy to foster a highly skilled workforce equipped to meet the sector's evolving demands. This can be achieved by expanding the training options funded in the budget.

Access to funding will be pivotal in driving automation

Automation emerges as a powerful tool for enhancing productivity in the food supply chain. The government's facilitation of access to funding, focused on productivity enhancement, will be pivotal in promoting the adoption of automation.

While we endeavour to cultivate a resilient domestic workforce, migration will continue to play a role in the short term. It is paramount to ensure the wellbeing of migrant workers. The review underscores the necessity for a robust legal framework and enforcement system to thwart labour exploitation and modern slavery.

In conclusion, the insights gleaned from this review have the power to ignite transformative change in the sector. We eagerly anticipate the government's response, expected later this year. I ask them to seriously consider the proposals outlined by the review and the members of England's food supply chain.

For an in-depth understanding of our findings and recommendations, I invite you to explore the full report.

John Shropshire OBE is Chair of the Independent Review into Labour Shortages in the Food Supply Chain and Executive Chairman of G’s Fresh.

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